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Rights group cheers Bhutan’s move toward legalizing gay sex

June 9, 2019
FILE- In this March 24, 2008 file photo, Bhutanese women queue up to cast their votes to select a new parliament and end more than a century of absolute monarchy, in Sisna, on the outskirts of Thimphu, Bhutan. The tiny Himalayan kingdom's lower house of Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Friday to repeal provisions that said "unnatural sex" is illegal. The bill still needs to be passed by the upper chamber before being sent for royal assent. (AP Photo/Manish Swarup, File)

NEW DELHI (AP) — A global rights group on Sunday welcomed Bhutan’s move toward becoming the latest South Asian nation to decriminalize homosexuality.

The tiny Himalayan kingdom’s lower house of Parliament voted overwhelmingly on Friday to repeal provisions that said “unnatural sex” is illegal. The bill still needs to be passed by the upper chamber before being sent for royal assent.

“Taking steps to end the criminalization of same sex relationships is a welcome and progressive step by Bhutan,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in an email.

Bhutanese Finance Minister Namgay Tshering had proposed to repeal the penal code provisions, saying the law, despite never being used, had become “a stain” on the country’s reputation.

The minister said he was optimistic that the upper house in the nation of 750,000 people would back the lower house decision when it votes on Monday.

Ganguly said the campaign for wider acceptance of gay rights should get more attention in South Asia, which is conservative and culturally and religiously diverse with major religions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Bhutan’s move follows India, whose Supreme Court last year decriminalized homosexuality by declaring related British-era laws unconstitutional.

Ganguly said that Nepal has made “some good efforts” as well.

“The rest of South Asia, including Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, should follow suit and outlaw these legal provisions that are a part of their colonial past,” she said.

In Bangladesh and Pakistan, both Muslim-majority nations, gay relationships are illegal, and gay rights activists routinely face discrimination.

In a report last year, Human Rights Watch urged Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka to follow India and decriminalize colonial-era laws that had criminalized gay sex.

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